26 December 2012

Nigeria: Give Thanks

AS the year 2012 gradually winds down and goes the way of 2011, one of the prominent news items to be seen around the world is the fact that the year has been one of the deadliest for journalists. There can be no doubt that this year has taken a terrible toll on journalists.

Many of them were killed in the line of duty, often targets of brutal regimes and dictators out to settle score with those they consider their enemies simply on account of the type of job they do. But not only for journalists, 2012 has been truly a gruelling year for many, professionals and non-professionals alike.

It's been a year of cataclysmic occurrences which underscore the increasingly evident change in the direction of global weather patterns. It's been a year of terrible earthquakes, freak storms, hurricanes and floods that wreaked entire towns and communities. Wars that have raged in different parts of the world have not abated while the human heart appears to grow darker.

Nations have risen against nations and families have turned on one another. Murders have increased as have suicides- the latest being the gory harvest in Newtown, Connecticut in the United States, where a twenty-year old man finally gave in to the demons in his head and put his mother's personal 'armoury', her little 'chest of war' into operation and promptly sent 26 innocents made up mainly of 6 and 7 years old children and six of their instructors to very brutal and untimely death. He started his grim operation with the woman that brought him into the world- his own mother.

In Nigeria, the year has been no less terrible. It started on a grand note of larceny, a bare-faced lie not to raise fuel prices at a time Abuja had completed plans to remove so-called oil subsidy it gives super rich kids masquerading as oil marketers. It was a rude slap in the face of Nigerians by an administration that was walking down the thoroughfare of deception constructed by previous regimes. It precipitated an energy crisis the country is still reeling in.

As recently as a fortnight ago when I was in Abuja, fuel was still being sold in jerry cans by the road side while all across the country fuel stations have started the seasonal hoarding of their products in anticipation of yet another increase in fuel prices. Although Abuja has denied any planned increment but nobody takes such denial seriously.

Not in the light of what transpired about this time last year. In a period when employed Nigerians are apparently fewer in number than at any other time, available statistics say the greatest part of the national revenue, as high as 70percent, goes into recurrent spending, mostly on elected and unelected so-called public servants.

Many in the private sectors have lost their jobs where those who still have theirs can't be sure of what lies ahead for them. But the profligacy continues all around with more state officials buying private jets at public expense while others crash theirs- also at public expense.

In many communities across Nigeria, floods wreaked havoc that echoed biblical records. Hundreds of thousands, probably millions, were sent into refugee camps where they will be spending Christmas and New Year celebrations in circumstances that are aggravating to the mental and physical health of human beings. Many of these flood-ravaged communities are responsible for the huge wealth being squandered in government circles around the 36 states and Abuja.

But this season, they will spend time huddled together in environments that expose them to avoidable health risks. While we heard less of hired assassins this year, there was exponential rise in kidnappings, especially in the South-east, where this practice that threatens national security is now a major money-spinning industry despite legislations criminalising it.

Millions of Naira are made monthly by kidnappers operating in the region, we now hear. Nobody is safe, from commissioners to legislators, ministers to business persons and their families- all are now targets of kidnappers. While the outcry and the huge deployment of security personnel that greeted the kidnapping of the mother of the Finance Minister might have called attention to the peculiar state of chaos that kidnapping is fast turning the affected region into, such responses are not likely to reduce abduction-related crimes. Not when the high-flying victims of kidnappers such as the minister's mother are alleged to have paid huge ransom to secure their release. Or the craze for quick and easy wealth remains the target of young Nigerians.

How about the terrorists in our midst- what has been their score card in 2012? They have been as brutal but no less cowardly as ever. As usual, no space is immune to their attacks- from worship centres to military fortes, markets to educational centres and private homes. In one breath they call for negotiation and in another promise more fire and molten magma- all the while hiding behind the veil of anonymity.

Many Nigerians are still dying from the atrocities of these beasts while businesses have been badly destroyed in parts of the north where the group(s) have continued to operate. Government itself is not in any way wiser in its dealings with the terrorists or their accomplices that have been exposed among the ruling echelon.

It continues to vacillate between negotiating with these faceless anarchists in retreat or taking them out when and where it encounters them. Aside kidnappers and terrorists, armed robbers have not been silent. They have been more brazen and demonic in their operations. Banks are still been raided while homes are not allowed the peace that should be the natural preserve of such places.

In all this, however, there are still things to bring warm smiles, even loud laughters, into the faces of many. Our collective state of well being may be less than it should be, to say nothing of it measuring up to the ideal but there are and, hopefully, must still be grounds for us to feel it's not all been a wasted year individually.

It is the memories of these seemingly little but many joys that make life liveable that we need hold on to. We need not own private jets or live on stolen wealth in exotic locations in and outside the country or turn the commonwealth into our private vaults to know the pleasures of God's beneficence- huge and many, if we would learn to recognise them.

Simple and trite as it sounds, the best things in life are still to be had free- from the air we breathe to the world we live in. When we know this we would learn to be grateful. And with such grateful heart, I wish you all happy holidays- Merry Christmas and great 2013!

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